Baca introduces new jails boss Terri McDonald
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca introduced his pick to run the nation’s largest jail system Monday, calling her “a consummate professional and … a great humanitarian” who would help reform the troubled lockups.
Baca’s selection, Terri McDonald, was most recently a top official for the state’s prison system, where she worked for more than two decades.
Hiring an outside custody expert to run the county’s jails was one of the recommendations made last year by a blue ribbon commission examining allegations of deputy-on-inmate abuse inside Baca’s jails. That commission, made up of former judges and other influential officials, found that Baca was an uninformed and uninvolved manager and that accountability was lacking among his top aides when it came to supervising the jails. Federal authorities have been investigating deputy misconduct in the county’s lockups for at least a year and a half.
At a press conference Monday morning, Baca said McDonald would be “bringing a great amount of wisdom into the system. McDonald, who has a reputation as a firm manager, said she’s looking forward to helping to reform the jails.
Aside from the obvious hurdles the department faces with inmate abuse allegations, McDonald said she would also be focused on realignment -- the statewide plan to send thousands of inmates who previously would have done their time in state prisons instead to county jails. While with the California prison system, McDonald helped oversee realignment implementation.
The addition of McDonald is the latest change to Baca’s management team since the jail abuse scandal erupted in 2011. Since then, current and former sheriff’s supervisors went public with their criticisms of Baca and his top aides. After mounting public pressure and the revelation that his jails were under federal investigation, Baca agreed to a sweeping set of reforms aimed at improving jailhouse conduct, training and accountability. On Monday, Baca said those reforms weren’t aimed at improving his reelection chances next year but rather at “doing the right thing.”
“I don’t operate on the premise of what is an electability standard,” Baca said.
While Baca has embraced the reforms recommended by the blue ribbon panel, he continued to question the commission’s findings Monday, describing them as allegations that have not been proved. Among the findings were that Baca and his top aides allowed a culture in which deputies beat and humiliated inmates, covered up misconduct and formed aggressive deputy cliques in the county jails.
“Criminals are entitled to a trial,” Baca said, “but the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is not entitled to one?”
— Robert Faturechi